Contra Leader Says Talks Fail, Asks Military Aid

Times Staff Writer

The military leader of Nicaragua's U.S.-backed rebels, in an unusually frank statement of the Contras' aims, said Wednesday that peace talks with the Sandinista government have not worked and asked for U.S. military aid to resume fighting the leftist regime.

"The only threat to the Sandinistas that they respect is a military threat," Enrique Bermudez, the Contras' military chief, told reporters. "Without military pressure, the Sandinistas won't make democratic reforms and won't allow freedom in Nicaragua."

Bermudez said the Contras had entered negotiations with the Sandinistas because of pressure from Congress and other Central American countries, but he said the talks have only benefited the Managua government and could not lead to a settlement of Nicaragua's six-year-long insurgency.

He said that the Sandinista strategy is "to prolong the negotiations, look for a new government (in the United States) and hope for a change in policy."

The Contras held several rounds of talks with the Sandinistas from March until June 9, when they said they would not participate in further negotiations unless the Managua government's policies changed--and unless they received new aid from Congress.

Since the breakdown in talks, the Sandinista government has cracked down on its domestic opposition, arresting political and labor leaders and closing the Roman Catholic Church's radio station. The government shut the leading opposition newspaper, La Prensa, but allowed it to resume publication Wednesday after a two-week break.

'A Losing Deal'

Bermudez's comments differed from the public policy of the Reagan Administration, which says it supports the talks. But it mirrored private statements of both U.S. and Contra officials, who have said that the talks have turned out to be "a losing deal," in the words of one Administration official.

The rebels and the Administration, however, face a political problem in seeking more financial aid from a Congress that has not yet given up on the idea of peace talks. So they have continued to declare their support for the negotiations while privately admitting that they are not enthusiastic about them.

Bermudez and other Contra leaders were in Washington on Wednesday to lobby in Congress for renewed U.S. aid. The Senate is expected to vote next week on a proposal by Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) for $47 million in aid for the rebels, including $20 million in military aid that would be placed "in escrow," to be released if Congress decides that the peace talks have failed. A spokesman for Dole, Al Lehn, said the bill has been attracting increasing support because of anger over the Sandinistas' domestic crackdown.

Bermudez's news conference was his first public appearance since he was elected to the Contras' seven-member directorate.

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